Friday, December 3, 2010

Brian Sherwin on Art, Politics, and Censorship

Brian Sherwin on Art and Politics, and Censorship:

Last night I was involved in an online debate concerning censorship and art. I’m not going to drop names of who was involved because honestly I don’t care to argue with said individuals again. That said, I will say that it involved a notable art critic and a few artists. Needless to say, the debate ended up very heated-- mainly due to the fact that my personal faith was targeted by an artist whom, though I did not realize it at the time, I’ve clashed with before due to his bigotry against Christianity in general. Unfortunately, I feel that others involved with the debate missed what I was saying altogether due to that.

The debate focused on how a few Republican politicians are striving to censor a controversial exhibit. There were many comments hinting at right wing conspiracy and other shrewd-- and dare I say boring-- comments about Christianity in regards to art. I pointed out that while I did not agree with said censorship I also thought it was important for people to realize that the mainstream art world caters to forms of censorship as well. I stressed that the mainstream art world tends to present left wing thoughts and agendas and that it is rare to see a museum art exhibit, or gallery exhibit for that matter, that focuses on anything but left wing ideas.

During my introduction to the debate I also pointed out that while it is common for art exhibits that focus on the ‘bad side’ of Christianity to take place it is extremely rare to find exhibits within the context of the mainstream art world that focus on the negative aspects of other faiths in the same manner. My point was clear-- there is an obvious bias within the mainstream art world concerning key social and religious issues. Thus, I found it amusing that so many were up in arms over one aspect of censorship while they continue to ignore others examples of censorship that are convenient to them and their ideology.

Since one of the main issues of the debate focused on how tax dollars are spent on government funded museum art exhibitions I pointed out that if museums were more balanced in the visual rhetoric displayed in controversial art exhibits that perhaps the Republicans who strive to cut funding for art would not be so apt to pursue that end. After all, the Republican battle cry over art funding is that it is a waste-- and I’d say that the Republicans who feel that art funding is a waste say so due to the fact that exhibits in general often take a one-sided political approach to social dialogue. Would the Democrats take the same position if ‘right wing’ views dominated government funded art exhibits? Most likely. Anyone who says otherwise is naïve by my estimate.

Point blank-- and this is what I was attempting to stress in the debate-- taxes are paid by individuals with a variety of ideas, beliefs, and thoughts… Is it so wrong to suggest that museums funded by taxes should focus on a variety of ideas within the context of art exhibits? Is it so wrong to expect a government funded museum that exhibits Pro-Choice art to also have an exhibit that focuses on Pro-Life art? Apparently that idea is wrong because I was lashed at for suggesting it. Hell, apparently I’m closed-minded for my thoughts on the matter.

In my opinion those who embrace art should strive to not be one-sided as far as exhibits are concerned. We should bask in the visual exploration of viewpoints-- both those we support and those that oppose our personal ideology-- as the purest sense of our freedoms and liberty under one flag. Part of the challenge of a thought provoking controversial art exhibit, at least in my opinion, is to confront ideas and concepts that we don't always agree with 100%. Yet there is an obvious one-sidedness within the mainstream art world-- and if a subject, issue, or theme does not fall within the status quo of accepted thought it stands little to no chance of being displayed, reviewed, or discussed outside of being mocked. Is that not a form of censorship unto itself? I think so.

For my thoughts it was implied by one commenter that I desire more “Jesus art in the art world” and that I want only my “brothers” to be exhibited. Said commenter was aware that I happen to be a Christian and later revealed that he had clashed with me before. Upon viewing that prior debate it was clear that this individual tends to lash out at anyone involved in art who happens to be Christian-- and feels that Christians and Republicans are trying to infiltrate or take over the mainstream art world. Thus, my point of view was totally avoided in exchange for direct attacks on my faith-- and let me tell you, it did not take long for other wolves to surround the kill.

The point these individuals appear to have missed is that I was suggesting that all forms of censorship in regard to art are to be frowned upon-- unless of course there is specific illegal activity to consider. I was stressing that though I may not agree with a viewpoint conveyed through art I don’t think it should be censored-- and I expect others to have the same position if they truly appreciate our freedom, liberty, and power of art in general. In that sense I’m open to anything-- including art exhibits that challenge my personal views.

Unfortunately, my openness and acceptance in facing visual messages that challenge my own ideology is apparently not shared-- at least not with the contributors of that specific debate. In hindsight I fail to see how they are any different than the Republican politicians they are angry with. They represent the same beast-- censoring art-- and in reality specific viewpoints-- for their own political views.

This mentality is not uncommon within the context of the mainstream art world. As it stands, there are artists who have to keep their political and religious views a secret or else face obscurity based on those personal thoughts alone. After interviewing over 500 artists from various backgrounds and levels of success I have just a little knowledge of this fact. Artists tend to share with me-- and often the information shared goes beyond the interview itself. In other words, I know that an artists work can easily be taken for granted once their political-- or religious-- manner of thinking is discovered.

The art critic who opened the debate stressed that the Republican politicians were on a “Witch hunt”. Thus, I stressed that there are two sides to the witch hunt he spoke of... There is the witch hunt by Republican politicians and the witch hunt within the art world itself that has long strived to keep conservative minded or Christian artists out of the scene, so to speak. One quickly learns the in and out of the mainstream art world and that certain ideas or religious beliefs will only lead to professional persecution if discovered.

The bigotry of those who cry bigot is something I’m fully aware of because I’ve been warned before that I will not get anywhere with art writing if I continue to make my faith and some of my political views obvious. I’ve experienced smear campaigns against me in the past-- such as words taken out of context to make it appear as if I’m an impossible ass. (That was clever, true?) I’d like to point out that I’m a fiscal conservative and social liberal-- and do not hide the fact that I‘m a Christian. I also think that President Obama is a bumbling idiot on the same level as Bush-- and for that I‘m apparently seen as an evil-doer by both sides of the political spectrum! Ya gotta love Democracy!

Allow me to sum this up-- I personally like the challenge of viewing an art exhibit that goes against the grain of my system of thought-- we should welcome that form of visual debate. Thus, I think it should go without saying that government funded art museums should focus on a wide range of ideas instead of catering to one-sided politics alone. In fact, I’ll go further still by suggesting that if museums want to continue to receive funding they should have to embrace a variety of viewpoints visually within the context of art exhibits. There is a huge problem if we, as a society, can’t face opposing views.

With that in mind, I often ask myself why so many ideas-- such as pro-life-- are feared by the mainstream art establishment? Why are curators wary to meet the challenge of facing that debate visually? Obviously it is a valid debate and very much a part of our societal dialogue. In that sense, the mainstream art world in general has failed to truly capture the complexities of society and to promote free thought and critical thinking. Instead curators tend to captivate a secure audience that they know in advance will be comfortable with the viewpoints expressed-- with the benefit of knowing they will attract the same tired press due to the same tired opinions that always spur controversy. There is no risk.

Again, I'm not saying that I want more 'Jesus art in the art world' as was suggested in the censorship debate I was involved with-- I'm saying that I find it amusing that people get so upset about censorship when the fact remains that specific ideas and faiths-- and the mockery of any faith aside from Christianity-- is almost always censored by the mainstream art world itself in the sense that very few high profile sources have enough bravery to examine them within the context of an art exhibit. I’m not asking for much-- I just want people who claim to be open-minded to truly be open-minded. Obviously the mainstream art world is very close-minded in some ways.

As I pointed out in the censorship debate I was involved with-- Anyone who knows me knows that I loathe censorship in any form. Furthermore, contradictions tend to annoy me-- especially if under the surface they have a political bent. I have many problems with the mainstream art world-- I don't like how artists who happen to be female often seem to be placed on the back-burner just because of their sex. I don't like how artists who are older often face the same fate. There is sexism, ageism and general prejudice all around within the mainstream art world. The one place where, I feel, such prejudice would be the last place to show up! For that it was hinted that I’m a dreamer or simply not facing reality. Artists face that reality everyday! Some are very vocal about it!

And yes-- I feel that if an artist explores certain ideas or beliefs with his or her art, no matter how great the artwork itself is, it is less likely to end up exhibited based on political lines that serve as bars oppressing art as a whole! Anyone who denies that is either blind or is simply comfortable with the way things are. That is my point. People should be upset with Republican politicians who strive to censor art-- but they should also be upset with other forms of censorship that occur-- and have long occurred-- within the mainstream art world itself!

We need to stop trying to break art down to one political extreme or the other. Art is about ideas... exchanges... critical thinking.... confronting visual challenges. It does not have to be comfortable-- it does not have to fit your ideology. At least that is what art could be if people would stop trying to contain it based on political extremes! So yes, both right wingers and left wingers censor art in different ways. They come in the form of politicians-- and curators for that matter. People in general fear what they don't understand or don't agree with. They tend to play victim while making victims of individuals who sit on the opposing fence. The irony being that, at least in my opinion, art should be about discussion.

This is what I want to stress: The soul of art is beyond me. The soul of art is beyond you. The soul of art is far beyond specific political or societal agendas. Art can't be contained by a single viewpoint or specific terms as to what is right or wrong in society as dictated by one political extreme or the other. Art is beyond all faiths and all manners of relationships. Art is as unique as our individual positions on social matters as a whole. Art embraces every position, every stance, every thought-- it accepts all. Art never discriminates. We could learn something from art and about ourselves as a society-- if only we tried.

That is why art, in general, is powerful. Unfortunately there are those from both sides of the political extreme that wish to contain art for their own purpose and cause-- at least in how, when, and where art is displayed. I think the ban happy individuals from both political extremes need to step back and let the public make up their own mind. We need to stop fearing ideas and the challenge of confronting opposing viewpoints visually. Until that happens I promise you that what you read in the art history books of tomorrow is nothing more than fabrication.

In closing, (and kudos to you if you endured this lengthy rant) I ask the following questions-- why are some people not capable of being faced with visual challenges? Why do so many appear to want a comfortable art-- an art that is lazy and fits within their own being? Why do so many seem to want an art that they don't have to deal with-- that they can automatically embrace based upon their own vision of 'good' or 'bad', 'right' or 'wrong'? Comfortable art takes the power away from art in general.

On the other hand, visual challenges strengthen art by fostering public discourse-- which I feel is something we should strive for! That starts with challenging those who seek to censor artwork based on the ideas presented-- even if we don’t agree with those ideas. Part of the solution, I dare say, involves examining the one-sidedness of the mainstream art world itself. If we can’t do that how are we any better than politicians who attempt to control what we view? Don’t show me two shoes and then try to tell me that they are not a pair. I know rampant censorship when I see it.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

1 comment:

  1. Very well said! I just clicked on your blog for the first time because I enjoyed your ideas and writing style so much in the article you wrote for Fine Art Studio On Line Newsletter.

    On this topic I would completely agree with you and add that every snow flake is original and unique, and yet all are common snow flakes. Every person, although all common human beings, is unique in his or her DNA, and becomes more so because of his culture, sex, age, experience, etc. Artists don't need to to "try" (i.e. figure out, work hard, push as so many do) to be original. By just being true to their own personalities, they will all be unique and original.